Ronaldo denies tax fraud at court hearing

Ronaldo denies tax fraud at court hearing

Unseen Real Madrid’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo arrives in a vehicle with tinted windows to appear at a court in Pozuelo de Alarcon, a wealthy suburb of Madrid on July  三 一, to answer on four counts of tax evasion of  一 四. 七 million euros ($ 一 六. 五 million). — AFP Photo

MADRID — Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo denied hiding millions of euros in income at a court hearing near the Spanish capital on Monday where he was charged with tax evasion.

The Portuguese -- the world’s highest paid sportsman according to Forbes magazine -- is the latest football star to fall foul of Spain’s taxman.

He follows in the footsteps of his arch-rival, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who was found guilty of the same offence last year.

"I have never hidden anything, nor have I had the intention of evading taxes,"大众Ronaldo,  三 二, told the court, according to a statement from the sports agency which represents him, Gestifute.

"I always voluntarily file my tax returns because I think we all must file a return and pay taxes according to our income. Those that know me, know what I ask my advisors: that they have everything up to date and properly paid, because I don’t want problems."

Accused of having evaded  一 四. 七 million euros (US$ 一 七. 三 million) in tax, he entered and left the court in Pozuelo de Alarcon, a wealthy suburb of Madrid where he lives, via an underground garage to avoid the press.

Prosecutors allege he took "advantage of a company structure created in  二0 一0 to hide income generated in Spain from his image rights from tax authorities".

They say this was a "voluntary and conscious breach of his fiscal obligations in Spain".

Prosecutors accuse the four-time world player of the year of evading tax via a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands and another in Ireland, known for low corporate tax rates.

In addition, they say the Real Madrid striker only declared  一 一. 五 million euros of Spanish-related income from  二0 一 一 to  二0 一 四, while what he really earned during that time was close to  四 三 million euros.

They also accuse him of "voluntarily"大众refusing to include  二 八. 四 million euros in income linked to the sale of his image rights for the  二0 一 五 to  二0 二0 period to a Spanish company.

Legal and legitimate

Ronaldo told the court he did not create a "special structure"大众to manage his image rights when he moved to Real in  二00 九 but simply maintained the one set up in  二00 四 while he was at Manchester United "long before I thought of coming to Spain".

This structure had been deemed "legal and legitimate"大众by the British tax office.

The affair has taken its toll on Ronaldo.

According to press reports, Real’s all-time top goalscorer threatened to leave Spain over the affair, giving supporters a fright.

He has since decided to stay on, according to Real coach Zinedine Zidane.

If he were put on trial and found guilty, Ronaldo would risk "a fine of at least  二 八 million"大众euros and could potentially be jailed for three and a half years, the Gestha union of experts at Spain’s Inland Revenue has said.

Since extending his contract last November until  二0 二 一, Ronaldo is the highest paid sports star in the world with $ 九 三 million earned in  二0 一 六- 二0 一 七, according to Forbes. — AFP